The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

July 23, 2013

Laying the foundation for development

By Katie Dahlstrom Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — The city of Clinton is paving the way for downtown revitalization and housing by establishing what economic incentives it will offer to developers.

Earlier this month the Clinton City Council approved an amendment to the urban renewal plan that covers a large area spanning from 14th Avenue North to 13th Avenue South and includes downtown.

By amending the plan, the city accounted for revitalization projects that it expects it could consider in the coming years and what kind of perks would be available to people who chose to invest in Clinton’s downtown. Without the projects listed in the urban renewal plan, the city cannot legally offer tax increment financing incentives.

“We’re trying to be more proactive than reactive,” City Administrator Jessica Kinser said. “We didn’t want to have to come back to the urban renewal plan every time something came up. Now we have the legal authority to move forward with TIF as long as we stay within our debt capacity.”

The potential projects listed in the plan include rehab and revitalization of the Roosevelt building, former post office, former YMCA building, Banner Home Furnishings building and Jacobsen building. The city can offer development packages of no more than $5 million per building that can include TIF, grants, loans, infrastructure assistance and other incentives.

“Those are buildings that have the potential for development. They are also historic. We wanted to target big anchor buildings that are like the Wilson building and have both residential and commercial potential,” Kinser said.

While the urban renewal plan names particular buildings, it doesn’t mean there are any active talks about developing those properties. Kinser said property owners weren’t consulted before being put into the plan, which is by no means going to be used to push any business out of its current space.

Banner Home Furnishings owner Ric O’Leary was unaware that the building he owns and operates his business from was named in the plan. He said while he isn’t surprised, he has no intent to move his business in the foreseeable future.

“I understand why they would pick this building. It’s a beautiful building with phenomenal views of the river. But I’m selling furniture here now,” O’Leary said.

Members of the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District II, which taxes downtown business owners to improve the area, were consulted on what buildings revitalization would have the most effect on downtown.

John Eisenman, president of the SSMID II, sees the amendment as a means to continue the redevelopment that’s taken place in downtown.

“I think it’s a positive thing to be looking down the road. It’s good to have potential projects and I think it’s a pretty good list. Those are, should we call them, significant projects,” Eisenman said. “I look at this as a partnership between the SSMIDD II and the city to keep development and exciting things happening downtown.”

The amended plan also covers the development agreement between the city and Cedar Rapids-based development group Frantz-Hobart for the Wilson building.

City officials offered Frantz Hobart a 95 percent tax increment finance rebate not to exceed $1.26 million over the course of a decade. Without amending the urban renewal plan, the city couldn’t move forward with the project.

Rather than an upfront cash incentive, the city will provide a “backstop” cash incentive to be used only if the development was not rented at 100 percent. The city would be responsible for up to six units for 10 years at $800 per month per unit. The maximum risk for the city in providing the backstop would be $576,000 across the same 10-year period.

The amendment also calls for $1.5 million in improvements to bolster the stock of second floor residential units in downtown. The city expects to provide financial assistance to property owners that would like to convert upper floors to residential space to help pay for ADA improvements and sprinkler requirements.

Improvements to public structures such as street lights, sidewalks, landscaping and the Clinton Public Library also are on the city’s sights.